Sunday Wisdom No. 65
Arbitrary constraints—that are set just for the sake of setting constraints—are useless. We have to learn how to choose the appropriate constraints based on the creative goals we are pursuing.
Welcome to Issue 65!
👋 Hi, I’m Abhishek. Welcome to Sunday Wisdom—a weekly advice column on decision-making, clear thinking, creativity, and everything else that’s stressing you out in business and life. I appreciate you being here. If you are loving Sunday Wisdom, you can buy me coffee or share this newsletter with a friend.
Something important! I’m playing with the idea of conducting a workshop, and I need your help to design it. If you are interested, kindly take some time out to fill up this form. (I request you to share your thoughts even if you don’t intend to attend. 😉)
Pick any topic that interests you, and let me know what you wish to achieve from the workshop. The more descriptive your answer the better it would be for me to understand what you are looking for.
My primary motivation behind the workshop is to meet some of you, and do something interesting together. It doesn’t matter whether you are young or old, a teacher or a student, a home maker or a business owner, a janitor or an investor—my goal is to learn from you as much as you’ll learn from me.
What I’m Thinking
Bending Space And Time to Solve Problems Creatively
A new project, an empty canvas, or a blank page has immense possibilities. We can go in all possible directions. But as much as we would like to believe, this isn’t liberating—it’s extremely limiting!
The biggest hurdle any creative has to overcome is starting out. The fear of a misstep is almost paralysing. To overcome this, we need constraints.
But arbitrary constraints—that are set just for the sake of setting constraints—are useless. We have to learn how to choose the appropriate constraints based on the creative goals we are pursuing.
In this essay, I talk about two types of constraints that can be used to help us creatively solve problems in all kinds of projects.
Lessons on Wealth from a Millionaire
Derek Sivers is an American writer, musician, and entrepreneur who founded CD Baby—an online CD store for independent musicians—back in 1998. He sold the company for $22Mn in 2008.
I’m a big fan of his writing—it’s straightforward, fat-free, and to the point.
How Sivers became rich is an insightful story that made an impression on me. I talk about that in this video. After watching it, I promise that you’ll get a new perspective about what it is to be rich.
Let me know your thoughts after watching this video. It’s kind of a controversial idea, and you are free to disagree with it. I was fascinated by this, but if you have a counter, I would love to hear your point of view.
What I’m Reading
Old Things New Context
I came across this old article from Snap Inc. It talks about how photography has transformed in the age of social media.
Photography isn’t about creating an art object any more. As taking photos have become ridiculously simple, it’s the communication of the experience itself. Selfies aren’t self-portraits but a sharing of experience—like a communication of where a person was, and how they felt.
It got me thinking. Like photography, other activities (such as chatting with friends, or taking notes, or reading books) aren’t what they used to be. In the new context, they have found newer meanings. Food for thought!
Work Lives Forever
Jackie Chan once said, “Whatever you do, do the best you can. Because films live forever.”
You cannot go to every person in the audience and tell them why you couldn’t give your best because it was raining, or you didn’t have time, or you had other problems. The audience doesn’t care. It’s either a good movie or a bad movie. And it’ll be so forever.
But “the best you can do” isn’t about perfection. The best you can do is to meet a high standard in a given situation. In the film Rocky, the best Rocky Balboa could do was go the distance. That’s all that is expected from us—to go the distance.
Having reasons (or excuses) does not turn a bad performance into a good one. Results are completely unaffected by rationalisation.
Cognitive Bias and Information Overload
We confuse popularity with quality, and end up copying the behaviour we observe. When we are repeatedly exposed to an idea—typically from many sources—we adopt and share it. This translates into an irresistible urge to pay attention to information that is going viral. If everybody else is talking about it, it must be important.
Free communication is not free. By decreasing the cost of information, we have decreased its value and invited its adulteration. For example, fake news!
To restore the health of our information ecosystem, we must understand the vulnerabilities of our overwhelmed minds, and how adding friction to the spread of information can be leveraged to protect us from being misled.
My partner has a habit of watching Netflix while working. She picks a series with a simplistic plot that doesn’t require her fullest attention. This is similar to listening to music while working. Here, instead of music, it’s a series with a paper-thin plot.
Turns out it’s really a thing, and companies like Netflix are making more of such content with simplistic and monotonous plots. This is the era of ambient television.
Take the show Emily in Paris for example. Its purpose is to provide sympathetic background for staring at your phone, cooking, doing laundry, or doing some actual work.
The episodic plots are too thin to ever be confusing. Nothing bad ever happens to the heroine. When you glance back up, chances are that you’ll find tracking shots of the Seine or cobblestoned alleyways— lovely but meaningless. You haven’t missed a thing. Try it sometimes. Maybe it’ll actually help you get some work done.
Spend more time thinking about the prospect of failure, and what you might do about it. It’ll help you build more resilient solutions. It is a useful mental habit but it is neither easy nor enjoyable.
The first advantage is that of contingency planning: if you anticipate possible problems, you have the opportunity to prevent them or to prepare the ideal response.
A second advantage is rapid learning. When Paul MacCready was working on his human-powered aircraft in the 1970s, his prototype plane was designed to be easily modified and repaired after the inevitable crashes. The feedback loop of fly > crash > adapt was quick and cheap.
The third advantage is that we’ll turn away from projects that are doomed from the start. Exploring the daunting prospect of disaster would provoke the wise decision not to start in the first place. Especially when the downside outweighs the upside.
But we must be careful when we stare at the prospect of failure. Stare too long and you will be so paralysed with anxiety that success becomes impossible.
One last thing. Reading this post won’t help, unless you swallow, chew, and digest these ideas. I urge you to become a demanding reader—one who questions the author, seeks answers, and doesn’t shy away from sharing opinions and interpretations.